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Doe v. City of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 14, 2014

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,
CITY OF SAN DIEGO, et al., Defendants.


MICHAEL M. ANELLO, District Judge.

On March 12, 2014, six local media entities[1] (the "Media") filed a Motion to Intervene and Unseal Records. Doc. No. 327. Defendant City of San Diego opposes the Media's request to unseal records. Upon careful consideration of the parties' arguments, the Court GRANTS in large part the Media's motion.


This action arises out of a March 8, 2011 incident in which Plaintiff Jane Doe ("Plaintiff" or "Doe") was sexually assaulted and battered by San Diego Police Department Officer Anthony Arevalos. As a result of Arevalos' acts, Plaintiff filed this civil rights lawsuit against Arevalos, the City of San Diego, and nine of Arevalos' past supervisors in the police force.[2]

On March 8, 2013, Magistrate Judge David H. Bartick issued a protective order, permitting the parties, upon receiving leave of court, to file "Confidential" documents under seal. According to the protective order, "Confidential" refers to:

(i) any information contained within a peace officer personnel file; (ii) the address, phone and license number of any peace officer; (iii) the name, address, phone, license number, photo or likeness of any sexual assault victim; (iv) the private financial information, including the social security number of any party or witness; (v) the private medical information, including psychiatric or psychological information, of any party or witness; (vi) any other information deemed privileged or confidential pursuant to any State or Federal statute or regulation, or any court order; and (vii) anything that the parties mutually agree should be classified as such.

Protective Order, Doc. No. 83. Pursuant to the protective order, a number of pleadings and documents in this matter have been filed under seal.

As a result, the Media now seeks to intervene for the limited purpose of unsealing all documents filed in conjunction with any dispositive motion adjudicated by the Court. The Media contends that the case involves substantial public interests and that compelling reasons do not exist to keep case records under seal. The City of San Diego, joined by Defendant Arevalos, opposes the Media's request, arguing that any denial of access to confidential information is based upon a compelling reason. Plaintiff Jane Doe does not oppose the Media's motion, so long as her identity and identifying information is redacted prior to access by or release to the public.


A. Motion to Intervene

The Ninth Circuit has recognized that non-parties seeking access to judicial records in a civil case may do so by seeking permissive intervention pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(b)(2). San Jose Mercury News, Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Ct., 187 F.3d 1096, 1100 (9th Cir. 1999). "A motion for permissive intervention pursuant to Rule 24(b) is directed to the sound discretion of the district court." Id. Defendants do not oppose intervention.

Ordinarily, an applicant seeking permissive intervention under Rule 24(b)(2) must establish: "(1) independent grounds for jurisdiction; (2) the motion is timely; and (3) the applicant's claim or defense, and the main action, have a question of law or a question of fact in common." Id. (internal quotation omitted). In cases involving a challenge of a protective order, however, an applicant need not have an independent ground for jurisdiction or share a question of law or fact in common with the main action. See Beckman Indus., Inc. v. Int'l Ins. Co., 966 F.2d 470, 473-74 (holding that independent jurisdictional basis and strong nexus of fact or law are not required where intervenor merely seeks to challenge a protective order); Globe Newspapers Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 609 n.25 (1982) ("[R]epresentatives of the press and general public must be given an opportunity to be heard on the question of their exclusion."). Moreover, the Court finds that the Media's intervention request is timely and will not prejudice the proceedings.

Accordingly, the Court GRANTS the Media's motion to intervene.

B. Motion to Unseal

Courts have historically recognized a "general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents." Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597, n.7 (1978). "Unless a particular court record is one traditionally kept secret, ' a strong presumption in favor of access' is the starting point." Kamakana v. City and Cnty. of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1135 (9th Cir. 2003)). In keeping with the strong public policy favoring access to court records, most judicial records may be sealed only if the court finds "compelling reasons." Oliner v. Kontrabecki, ___ F.3d. ___, 2014 WL 1088254, at *1 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Pintos v. P. Creditors Ass'n, 605 F.3d 665, 677-78 (9th Cir. 2010) (amended opinion)). However, a less exacting "good cause" standard "applies to private materials unearthed during discovery, " and to "previously sealed discovery attached to a nondispositive motion." Id. (citing Pintos, 605 F.3d at 678).

Here, the Media seeks to unseal "court records that have been filed in support of dispositive motions adjudicated by this Court, including motions for summary judgment." Reply Brief at 1. The Court has adjudicated three dispositive motions thus far in this action: (1) the Supervisor Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 191); (2) the City of San Diego's motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. No. 201); and (3) Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. No. 202).[3] Accordingly, the Court will consider whether Defendants have articulated "compelling reasons" for sealing documents filed in relation to these motions. The Court, however, will first briefly outline the two major arguments posed by the City in opposition to unsealing the documents.

Information From Peace Officer Personnel Files

The City's primary objection to the unsealing of the record invokes California Penal Code section 832.7, which provides:

Peace officer or custodial officer personnel records[4] and records maintained by any state or local agency pursuant to Section 832.5, or information obtained from these records, are confidential and shall not be disclosed in any criminal or civil proceeding except by discovery pursuant to Sections 1043 and 1046 of the Evidence Code.

Cal. Penal Code ยง 832.7.

However, section 832.7 does not serve as an automatic shield from disclosure in federal court. See Garrett v. City and County of San Francisco, 818 F.2d 1515, 1519 n.6 (1987) ("This court has held that personnel files are discoverable in federal question cases... despite claims of privilege"). Rather, the City must still demonstrate compelling reasons to seal the documents. See Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1178 (rejecting claim that documents relating to "law enforcement" and "official information privileges" are categorically exempt from the compelling interest test). In general, "compelling reasons... exist when such court files might have become a vehicle for improper purposes, such as the use of records to gratify private spite, promote public scandal, circulate libelous statements, or release trade secrets. Id. at 1179 (internal quotations and citation omitted).

Official Information Privilege

The City's secondary argument against unsealing documents relates to the official information privilege. This privilege stems from federal common law, Sanchez v. City of Santa Ana, 936 F.2d 1027, 1033 (9th Cir. 1990), and is neither automatic nor absolute. Instead, "[t]o determine whether the information sought is privileged, courts must weigh the potential benefits of disclosure against the potential disadvantages." Id. at 1033-34. The balancing test "is moderately pre-weighted in favor of disclosure." Kelly v. San Jose, 114 F.R.D. 653, 661 (N.D. Cal. 1987).

1. Documents Filed Under Seal Pursuant to Doc. No. 209

A number of documents were filed under seal pursuant to the Court's order contained in document number 209. The Court will examine each in turn to determine whether compelling reasons exist to keep the documents under seal.

The City's Documents Filed Under Seal

Exhibit 15 contains deposition excerpts from the deposition of "MP." The City concedes that this document may be unsealed provided that MP's name is redacted. Accordingly, the Court orders that Exhibit 15 be unsealed, excepting MP's true name.

Exhibit 30 is an SDPD Complaint Control form relating to the Jane Roe incident. The Court notes that the identifying information in this exhibit is already redacted. Moreover, the information contained within this document has already been publicly disclosed. For these reasons, the Court concludes that Exhibit 30 should be unsealed.

Exhibit 39 contains excerpts from Defendant Anthony Arevalos' deposition. This document was originally placed under seal due to concerns regarding the effect that public disclosure of his testimony might have on (1) Arevalos' continued personal safety while incarcerated; and (2) a potential retrial following his appeal of his criminal convictions. The Court finds these concerns speculative, at best, not compelling. Accordingly, Exhibit 39 shall be unsealed.

The declaration of Margaret Mendez identifies peace officer information obtained directly from her review of various officer personnel files. Many of the officers listed play minor, if any, roles in the litigation of this case. Accordingly, the Court finds that the officer's privacy interests in avoiding disclosure of excerpts of their personnel files is a compelling reason to seal Ms. Mendez's declaration. However, Ms. Mendez's declaration also contains information regarding Defendant Arevalos which the Court finds should not be placed under seal. Accordingly, the Court orders that a redacted form of Ms. Mendez's declaration be docketed. Any statements about officers other than Defendant Arevalos shall be redacted.

The declaration of Daniel Cerar contains details surrounding the investigation of the Jane Roe matter. Upon review, there is no compelling reason to maintain this document under seal. The declaration does not identify Jane Roe and otherwise contains information already revealed to the public. Accordingly, Daniel Cerar's declaration shall be unsealed.

The declaration of Executive Assistant Chief David Ramirez contains general information about the Internal Affairs Unit and the Jane Roe investigation. Beyond citing Sections 832.7 and 832.8, the City provides no reason why this declaration should remain sealed. Upon review, the Court finds that Ramirez's declaration includes no information which could be used to "gratify private spite, promote public scandal, circulate libelous statements, or release trade secrets." Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179. Accordingly, David Ramirez's declaration shall be unsealed.

The City of San Diego's memorandum of points and authorities in support of its motion for summary judgment, and concomitant separate statement of facts, shall be unsealed, excepting any information contained within Ms. Mendez's declaration which the Court previously determined should remain under seal.

Plaintiff's Documents Filed Under Seal

Exhibit F contains a transcript of the deposition of Lori Adams. The parties agree that no compelling reason exists to keep this document under seal. Accordingly, Exhibit F shall be unsealed.

Exhibit I is a psychological report of Defendant Arevalos conducted by Dr. Nicole Friedman. The exhibit contains the personal medical information of Defendant Arevalos. Moreover, the exhibit was entirely irrelevant to the Court's determination of the summary judgment motions. Based on the highly personal information contained within the document, and its irrelevance to this matter, the Court finds compelling reasons to seal Exhibit I.

Exhibit R contains excerpts from the deposition of Defendant Arevalos. As discussed previously, no compelling reasons exist to keep Arevalos' deposition under ...

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